SNJO plays Brubeck, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Bill Dobbins’ admiration for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s ability to move effortlessly between musical styles, expressed to the Herald ahead of this Dave Brubeck tribute, must have come into the pianist-arranger’s thoughts as he prepared the set-list. There were quite a few changes of direction here, all negotiated with SNJO’s customary expertise and all scored with a Brubeck scholar’s familiarity with and feel for the material as well as a sure sense of mood and development potential that brought a freshness to pieces that, in some cases, go back to the early 1950s.
Brubeck had a musical wanderlust, aided by the U.S. State Department employing him as a musical ambassador, and so impressions of Afghanistan and Japan sat alongside items that drew more conspicuously on the jazz tradition. Dobbins’s arrangements and neatly turned piano lines shone a bright light on all of these aspects with his fellow guest, John Nugent, filling the alto saxophone role most popularly occupied by Paul Desmond with a variety of approaches, now cool, now decidedly hot and now wailing the blues.
A call and response dialogue between Nugent and the orchestra on the opening Blue Rondo a la Turk established a tight partnership between soloist and ensemble that endured through It’s a Raggy Waltz’s ragtime dance, Cassandra’s bebop energy and Mr Fats’ endearingly slippery New Orleans boogaloo while particularly imaginative settings produced a lovely brass chorale and a fine piano-woodwind intro on Winter Ballad and Rising Sun respectively. Although written by Desmond, rather than Brubeck, Take Five couldn’t be omitted and the warmth of Dobbins’ arrangement and easy swing of its delivery made for an aptly convivial coda.
Review by Rob Adams for The Herald – Monday 2nd May, 2016